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UNICEF ranks countries on academics

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GENEVA, Switzerland (Reuters) -- Students in South Korea and Japan scored highest in academic surveys comparing 24 industrialized countries, with teenagers in southern Europe lagging in both reading and mathematics, the United Nations said Tuesday.

Finland and Canada came third and fourth in the table compiled by the U.N. Children's Fund, known as UNICEF, while Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal held the lowest overall rankings.

The report, issued by UNICEF's Innocenti Research Center in Florence, Italy, is based on results from three surveys testing 14- and 15-year-old's literacy and ability to apply essential mathematics and science.

Percent of 15-year-olds falling below international benchmarks:

1. South Korea           1.4
2. Japan                      2.2
3. Finland                    4.4
4. Canada                   5.0
5. Australia                  6.2
6. Austria                     8.2
7. Britain                      9.4
8. Ireland                     10.2
9. Sweden                   10.8
10. Czech Republic    12.2
11. New Zealand        12.2
12. France                   12.6
13. Switzerland           13.0
14. Belgium                 14.0
15. Iceland                  14.0
16. Hungary                14.2
17. Norway                  14.2
18. United States       16.2
19. Germany               17.0
20. Denmark               17.0
21. Spain                     18.6
22. Italy                        20.2
23. Greece                  23.2
24. Portugal                23.6
Source: UNICEF

"A child starting school in Canada, Finland, or (South) Korea ... has both a higher probability of reaching a given level of educational achievement and a lower probability of falling well below the average," UNICEF said.

"The United Kingdom, where hand-wringing over educational failures is a national pastime, fares better than all other countries in the European Union except Finland and Austria."

Britain ranked seventh overall, followed by France at 12, the United States at 18 and Germany at 19, the agency said.

The report examined performance in 24 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, whose 30 members account for most of the world's wealth.

"The 'big picture' shows that some OECD countries are consistently performing better than others when it comes to educating and equipping their young people for life in the 21st century ..." it said.

"In all countries under review, a strong predictor of a child's success or failure at school is the economic and occupational status of the child's parents," it added.

Copyright 2002 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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